Sitting on the South Bank of the River Thames between London and Greenwich is the UK's Millennium Dome, a large white tensile structure that covers a surface of 25 acres. Designed by British architects Richard Rogers Partnership with engineers Buro Happold, the Millennium Dome took one year to build and 18 additional months to outfit. It opened on December 31, 1999, as part of the UK's New Year's Eve celebrations to welcome the new millennium. By this time, it had not only become the largest building of its kind in the world, but also one of the most talked about.
Built with a large grant from Britian's lottery monies as well as handsome private sponsorships, the Dome received a mixed reaction in the British press. Then the original director was fired in mid-February, and replaced by Pierre-Yves Gerbeau, formerly of Disneyland Paris. While attendance was slow in the first months of 2000, it picked up considerably by March and has often been sold-out with up to 25,000 visitors per day and positive public response.
The Jubilee Underground line whisks visitors quickly from London out to the Dome, where the architectural components combine with 14 individual exhibit areas and a circus-like Millennium Show. The overall effect is like a world expo under a large umbrella, as well as a showcase for the lighting industry with numerous consultants, designers, and distributors involved in the project.
The exterior of the Dome itself is a huge white canvas thirsting to be painted with light. The tensile roof is made of 100,000 sq. m (120,000 sq. yd.) of Teflon-coated fiberglass fabric spun and woven by Chemfab, a New Hampshire-based company, and installed by Birdair, from Buffalo, NY. There are a total of 144 panels making up the 72 segments of the domed structure which is supported by twelve 90m-high (300') yellow masts popping jauntingly through the roof and secured with high-strength steel cables.
Twelve power cylinders that supply high-voltage power also encircle the Dome. Once the high-voltage power comes into the Dome from these external units, there are transformers in each core area plant room and in each exhibition plant room, as well as three additional transformers for the Millennium Show. These are located under the promenade in the Dome.
Designed by the London architectural lighting firm of Speirs and Major, the exterior lighting of the Dome includes the mast uplighting, the perimeter area, the power cylinders, the entrance, the major piazza, the river-access pontoon, and bridge. The firm also designed the interior architectural lighting for the Dome's inner surface, the core buildings, the perimeter circulation route, the inner circulation route, and the promenade, as well as the architectural component for the central arena and its towers.
The goal for the external lighting is, according to principal designer Mark Major, "to achieve a sense of discovery, celebration, and location to mark the millennium. The landscape lighting addresses circulation and places. Piazzas and artwork are lit to provide indirect ambient lighting while maintaining views through the site."
Speirs and Major worked very closely with lighting designer Patrick Woodroffe, who oversaw the site-wide lighting designers for the project. "We worked very closely together to define the overall concepts and look of the Dome, and to harmonize our individual show and architectural designs into a cohesive whole," says Major, who also worked with Mike Davis of Richard Rogers Partnership and the engineers at Buro Happold on some of the lighting concepts.
The exterior architectural lighting was designed as a background to the lighting of the Dome itself. "The yellow structural masts are a fundamental element of the structure of the Dome, carrying the cable net that supports the fabric panels," explains Major. "These are internally illuminated using Sill [from Germany] narrow-beam metal-halide luminaires to give the masts a more textural, three-dimensional appearance."
The cylindrical power towers have each of their internal levels uplit using tungsten-halogen luminaires by Meyer (also from Germany), with red dichroic filters to give a contrast to the white perimeter of the dome. "The oblique-angle color shift of the dichroic filter creates a yellow-amber texture that seeps through," Major points out.
Recessed into the ground around the exterior of the Dome are marker lights from the Danish company Louis Poulsen, with helicopter landing lights by Thorn Airfield Division recessed into concrete bollards. These were chosen to avoid typical architectural solutions such as streetlights, and in consideration of the many aerial images that would be taken of the Dome. These fixtures are all individually addressable to enable chase sequences around the Dome, and the bollards also house recessed custom-designed floor washers by WE-EF of Germany using the curve of the concrete as a reflector.
The major canopies surrounding the piazza area are uplit with asymmetric metal-halide luminaires by the UK's Thorn in a linear orientation. A standard lens was custom sandblasted to improve the distribution of light both behind the luminaire as well as in front. The Main Piazza has a grid of in-ground custom color-changing LED luminaires by Evolution in the UK. These also house a strobe; each luminaire is individually addressable.
At the river point of entry to the Dome there is a pontoon reached by a large bridge referred to as the Canting Brow. This structure is uplit with 150W metal-halide projectors by Thorn, with spread lenses and deep blue glass filters. "In-ground uplights housing four dichroic lamps by Evolution [two blue, one red, and one green] illuminate the canopy in a rhythmic and dynamic manner," says Major.
Inside the Dome, perimeter white light uplights by Sill were used to "create a horizon to help define the forms of tall 'zone' structures by silhouette, and to define the outer perimeter circulation area, allowing light to spill out into the external perimeter space," according to Major. It was also used to reduce the contrast between the translucent cladding system and the edge of the canopy. A combination of lamp sources was used for the ambient lighting, all of a warm color temperature, ranging from tungsten-halogen to CDM.
One of the biggest concerns about the interior architectural lighting was the appearance of the white fabric roof on cloudy days and at night. "Without lighting on gray days, the fabric will have a dull, almost dim appearance," remarks Majors. "It was felt that an uplighting component should be added to supplement the daylight at certain times."
The solution to this concern was the addition of 300 metal-halide 1kW projectors by the UK's White Croft positioned on the roofs of the core buildings (50 fixtures on each of six roofs: 26 in white and 24 in blue) around the Dome. "The white lighting blends with the perimeter to provide a white-lit surface to the first 30% of the dome," explains Major. "At night, the 1kW metal-halide projectors with blue filters create a blue sky against which the exhibits can be read in silhouette."
Inner circulation routes within the Dome are illuminated by adjustable downlights from Concord Lighting in the UK, with custom design groups pooled below the mast legs with integral LED detail, to provide a soft look. "Groups of 575W ETC Source Fours provide references to sunlight penetration from the roof lights surrounding each mast," says Major. Uplighting in the bases of the structural masts echoes the external approach.
The upper promenade that surrounds the central arena is lit continually with LED marker lights (by Ambiance in France) to define the walkway. The underside is uplit with blue-filtered Sill metal-halide fixtures to define the structure and also separate it from the exhibit zones.
The central arena's ambient lighting (designed by Woodroffe) is hung on high, circular trusses. Random-firing strobes from the UK's Enliten are located behind every third stair riser to add a visual dynamism to the space.
Site-wide control for the ambient lighting and the majority of the architectural lighting by Speirs and Major was provided by Dynalite Ltd, a UK company. There are 3,000 channels of dimming, with switching and DMX512 required for a system with over six megawatts of architectural lighting.
Equipment racks are distributed around the 384m (1,267') perimeter of the Dome, and connected via Dynalite's DyNet(R) network, using several kilometers of cable. A master PC with DLight(R) and MapView(TM) software provides a site-wide graphic interface for the system, with Dynalite LCD touch screens. The entire control package is linked by modem to Dynalite's offices outside of London for remote maintenence and programming, as well as online technical support.
The exhibition lighting in the 14 themed zones (Body, Home Planet, Self-Portrait, Journey, Living Island, Work, Learning, Mind, Play, Shared Ground, Faith, Talk, Rest, Money) is individually controlled in each zone. The majority of the dimming is via ETC Sensor dimmers bought through Lighting Technology Group in London, with DMX replay units (there is no ethernet used for the Dome's lighting systems, only DMX). The architectural lighting that illuminates the central arena (other than at showtime) is controlled by an ETC Express console.
While each exhibit zone had its own lighting designer (see credit box, page 49), the Dome's internal lighting staff provided an overview to make sure that the overall lighting met health and safety standards and other criteria. Much of the programming for the exhibits was done on Wholehog II consoles with WYSIWYG 2000 provided by A.C. Lighting Ltd, then downloaded onto No Worries replay units by Artistic Licence.
Additional controls used throughout the Dome (and provided by A.C. Lighting Ltd) include consoles from Jands in Australia (Jands Hog, Event, and ESPII). DMX testing equipment includes MicroScope units from Artistic Licence as well as L'il DMXters from Goddard Design in New York City.
Additional dimmers include two 72-channel Vision racks and a 24-channel Vision rack fitted with Jands modules as well as two 666-channel ART dimmer systems from Avolites UK. PowerLock connectors from Veam were selected, with the new PowerLock NRG sequential locking system also specified. Over 52km (32mi.) of DMX cable was called for, with both Tourflex Datasafe 2 and Datasafe 4 cable used. Vision LE200 haze machines add to the atmosphere. The lengthy list of luminaires includes ETC Source Four ellipsoidals and PARs, James Thomas Engineering PAR-64s and ACL fixtures, plus 198 Egg Strobes from Superb Source.
Woodroffe, best known for his concert tour lighting for the Rolling Stones, Tina Turner, and others, designed a kinetic light show to accent the thirsty exterior skin of the Dome. He used 120 Coemar CF 1200 automated luminaires in weatherproof plastic housings (three CF 1200s on each of the 12 power cylinders and seven on each of the 12 masts) mounted around the Dome at a height of 68m (224'). The Coemar fixtures are mounted on truss manufactured by Lite-Structures in the UK, and controlled by a Flying Pig Systems Wholehog II console. They were installed by the British company Pro-Design.
"The biggest and most exciting challenge of the project was to light the Dome skin," says Simon Brophy, head of lighting for the New Millennium Experience Company. "I think it tragic that at first the NMEC didn't consider or want to put light on the skin, although it was a unanimous decision that they should after we first placed intelligent lighting on the masts for a test/shoot-out in mid-December 1998. It gets pretty cold up there."
"These are what we think is the only moving production lighting to be rigged at such height in such severe elements as we get down here on the Greenwich peninsula," says Maggie Bragg, head of site-wide lighting maintenance for the Dome. She was part of the team that selected the Coemar fixtures (which allow 320-degree coverage) and their Globe weatherproof housings with forced-air cooling.
Woodroffe designed a big light show on the exterior of the Dome for New Year's Eve, as well as a nightly show that will run throughout the year 2000. "There is a big 'light clock' on the roof of the Dome, with a different color for each day of the week," he explains. "Pink for Friday, blue for Monday, yellow for Saturday, and so on."
His goal was to animate the exterior of the Dome with light that is constantly moving. "Even 120 Coemar fixtures can't cover the large surface evenly with color," Woodroffe points out, emphasizing the scale of the Dome. "But the animation covers it beautifully."
The clock "lights up" every hour on the hour, with a dramatic pre-show. "Ten seconds before the hour, there is a strobe chase then a blackout," says Woodroffe. "Then the Dome 'strikes' the hour in white light against the blackened background, and the color of the day comes back. The next color in the cycle appears at midnight." The colors can be changed for holidays (e.g., red and green for Christmas) or special events. Forty-eight metal-halide blue Osram 400W floods add a base glow for the clock.
In terms of maintenance, Bragg notes that "it takes approximately one day to complete a lamp change on one of the masts, providing there are no other problems," she says. "All of the technicians have to be IRATA (Industrial Rope Access Training Association) trained and accompanied by an IRATA Level III technician to do any work up there."
Woodroffe also designed the lighting for The Millennium Show, a breathtaking acrobatic and aerial spectacular that takes place several times daily in the central arena of the dome. This large open space (as big as London's Trafalgar Square and 150' [50m] high in the center) turns into a performance venue with the look of a techno-savvy circus tent.
The 35-minute show and 20-minute pre-show were conceived by Mark Fisher (who also served as creative director and set designer) and composer Peter Gabriel. Keith Khan designed the brightly-colored costumes and three-dimensional props. Micha Bergese served as artistic director.
The concept of the show, according to Fisher, is "to paint big pictures in the space, moving through time from a high-tech version of the Garden of Eden to a post-industrial world." As the audience wanders into the central arena to sit in bleachers or on the floor, a series of robin's-egg blue curtains begin the transformation of the space. The curtains cover the ceiling above the round stage to help keep out the daylight. Side curtains drop to a distance of 10m (33') from the floor. "They are like sails flying in to create a theatre," says Fisher.
A light truss on the bottom of each of the six circular curtain panels (a total of 600m [1,980'] in circumference hung on the largest of four concentric rings in the Dome's roof structure) is outfitted with four Coemar CF 1200 automated washlights, five Vari*Lite(R) VL7(TM) automated luminaires, and six 4-lamp bars with ETC Source Four PARs. Between the curtain sections are six stationary light towers, each with a control booth at the bottom, and 12 light pods that lower from the ceiling.
Each light tower has one Strong Gladiator III followspot with a 3,000W xenon lamp, as well as five 6-lamp bars with ETC Source Four PARs, five VL7s, five Coemar CF 1200s, and one 70kW Lightning Strikes strobe. The light pods (hung on the third largest of the structural rings) have three 6-lamp bars with ETC Source Four PARs and three Coemar CF 1200s. Six of the 12 pods also have four VL7s. Eighteen CF 1200s are hung on the second smallest ring and six additional CF 1200s are on the smallest ring above the stage.
"The ambient architectural lighting in the Dome fades down at showtime, as does the lighting in some of the exhibitions and restaurants that look into the central arena," explains Woodroffe, whose largest challenge was combating the bright daylight that floods the Dome, especially at noon. "This is a daytime venue and the sun pierces through the sides of the Dome," he says.
One of the lighting solutions was to use a lot of sidelight from the towers and pods. "It was hard to light anything too dramatically," Woodroffe admits, noting that the curtains help darken the space and cut the ambient light levels. "My key decisions were determined by the fact that the show is in daylight. We had to take control of the space and darken it so the lighting could be seen."
Woodroffe's second big challenge was deciding where to physically place the lights. "We couldn't hang a big truss," he says, explaining the decision to use the circular rings in the Dome's ceiling structure to hang the lighting supports. "Wherever you sit in the Dome you have lights in different layers in your field of vision. During the early show, there is always a sparkle of white light coming at you from a lot of source points. The later show has more color. There is always movement in the lighting and the show is lit like a theatrical performance exaggerated by one thousand. It is not a subtle show and everything is done with a broad brush to make big statements."
Woodroffe's choice of dichroic colors for the late-afternoon show is based on the themes of the three different acts. The first act is like a harvest festival lit in yellow and amber, while a storm sequence combines strobes and deep blue light. For the aerial ballet at the end of the show, Woodroffe uses the Strong followspots in soft lavender. "I added a lot of white light for the earlier show to add sparkle to the costumes and pull the performers out of the hugeness of the space," he says.
The look of the show was created over a long period, with Woodroffe taking his cues from Fisher's designs. "Mark had a pretty clear idea of the scale of the show two years ago," says Woodroffe, who brought in a crew he frequently works with, including Dave Hill and Andy Volker for programming, and lighting consultant Steve Nolan to complement the NMEC lighting department. "We knew there would be a tower and people flying. It evolved as it went along with Mark steering a mix of disciplines very competently."
Another challenge for both Fisher and the lighting department at the Dome was the short installation time and the fact that they were rehearsing on a building site, as well as what Woodroffe refers to as "a political arena. But the show is a real success," he says. "Everybody took a lot of risks, but it works."
Fisher's set designs include a stage that breaks apart to reveal a 15' pit under the Dome floor. As the action of the show progresses, two large elements of the decor rise from below the floor: a 40' central sway pole topped with 10 VL7s and 10 Coemar CF 1200s; and the "tower of Babel," a large circular structure of red trussing built by Sheetfabs Ltd and lit with 120 Thomas PAR cans. Pyrotechnics by LeMaitre are set on the trussing before each show. DMX racks are located under the stage with distributed dimmers on the trussing.
The control system for the moving stage and scenery includes 7.5km (4.6mi.) of TMB Associates' new ProPlex CAT5 Patch Cables. These durable ethernet cables were supplied by TMB's UK distributor Direct Cable Systems.
The majority of the conventional lighting equipment for the Millennium Show was provided by A.C. Lighting Ltd, with the Coemar fixtures provided by the UK company Lumenation, and the Vari*Lites from the London office of VPLS. The control system for the show was custom-built by A.C. Lighting Ltd with a 5,000-DMX-channel version of WYSIWYG visualization software from Toronto's CAST Lighting.
A.C. Lighting Ltd reports that this system is usually only available up to 2,000 channels, but that the large size of the rig for the Dome show required a custom system that was tested at CAST's headquarters in Canada using an IBM computer. The WYSIWYG system is installed into rolling racks that also contain DMX and MIDI interfaces which allow the lighting control consoles to communicate with the WYSIWYG.
The A.C.-designed control systems includes two Flying Pig Systems Wholehog II consoles, each fitted with an overdrive box for a total capacity of 5,120 DMX channels. A backup system of rack-mounted Hog units with overdrive boxes runs along with the main system. The data from the consoles is fed via WYSIWYG into a custom-designed DMX changeover unit from Artistic Licence in the UK. The front of this unit has one red button which allows the switchover from one set of controls to the other, should the backup system be needed. There is also an ETC Express console to control the two JEM Roadie smoke machines and Mark III Cirrolite hazers used in the show.
Custom SAM software by consultant Richard Bleasdale links the motor, sound, and lighting cues for the show. "There is a manual approach to running the lighting," explains Brophy. "Coming from rock and roll, Patrick prefers this to using time code."
Having worked on the project since 1998, Brophy is responsible for the specification, bidding, purchasing, installation, and running of the lighting equipment for the entire site. He also set up the 24-hour monitoring room and the workshop, or hub, where the operational and maintenance issues for the lighting equipment are dealt with.
Light Processor Paradime fully digital dimmers supplied by the UK's Lightfactor Sales (seventy-six 6x10A modules with See Form connectors and 10 custom-designed 5kW units) provide 400 channels of distributed dimming. "These are on the truss and on the towers," explains Brophy. "It is easy to swap them out if there are any faults."
Lightfactor Sales also supplied 26 of Light Processor's new DMX distributors. These route control signals to the lighting fixtures high up on the Dome's exterior masts, as well as for the Millennium Show and the adjoining Skyscape arena.
A variety of equipment is installed in the exhibit zones, many of which include A/V systems by the UK company Electrosonic Ltd. A Celco Navigator console is used in Faith, a zone with architectural lighting by Peter Fordham of DHA. In this case, the Celco console controls over 70 channels of colored fluorescent lamps with preset time fades run by SMPTE time code. Martin MAC 500s and 600s were used by LD Tanya Burns in the Rest zone.
The Mind zone, designed by architect Zaha Hadid in collaboration with lighting designer Rogier van der Heide of Hollands Light in Amsterdam, has custom-designed fluorescent tubes mounted on the steel structure behind the transluncent walls for a soft, indirect greenish glow. To get the color he wanted, van der Heide used Calibrated Color by Rosco, with cyan in various intensities (4315, 4330, 4360 and 4390). "They are all the same wavelength, just different saturation," he explains. "It creates a good harmony in the lighting scheme."
The floors are also translucent, made of a sandwich of two layers of artificial resin with an aluminum honeycomb in between the layers which are tinted olive green. The fluorescent tubes under the floors have a 4000K cool white color temperature with a tinge of blue.
"There was basically nothing to light in the exhibit, so we went for creating a space that makes you curious. We tried to make the whole zone out of light," says van der Heide, who points out that the Mind zone shows how the human mind works. "It's about how we process the input we get through the senses and how we interpret it."
Other zones, such as Journey, combine videoscreens (a very nice touch is video reflected in the side-view mirror of a motorcycle) with ETC Source Fours, red neon tubes behind the walls, and backlit photographic panels for a dramatic design aesthetic. At the Living Island exhibit, which warns against environmental pitfalls, a large wire lighthouse is filled with lightbulbs that light up as part of an interactive display.
Adam Grater of DHA served as project manager for the lighting of four of the zones, working with individual lighting designers on each area. The Self-Portrait zone, with lighting by DHA's Desmond O'Donovan, deals with the question "What is it like to be British today?" The outside of the zone shows images of British things (based on photos sent in by the public) mounted as a collage of backlit transparencies on a giant cylindrical light box with a total of 5,760 high-frequency fluorescent lamps (30W T8 4000K). On the front of the drum, two rotating frosted glass frames with windows highlight the images.
Inside, the zone has a National Portrait wall with images sent in by the public, plus six satirical sculptures by cartoonist Gerald Scarfe. These poke fun at various aspects of Britishness, and are lit with key light and backlight from ETC Source Four profiles and PARs with DHA gobos and breakup patterns. Color filters range from Rosco 02/03/04 (shades of Bastard Amber) to R200 (double blue), R68 (Sky Blue) and R26 (Light Red). Metal-halide 400W lamps in Sill fixtures, mounted on top of the light box, add a blue glow.
David Robertson of DHA designed the lighting for the Money zone, which emphasizes the need to save money rather than spend it. An edge-lit light box at the entrance serves as exterior lighting while inside Robertson created "a lighting metaphor that represents the flow of money through the system."
He found that 2km (1.2mi.) of white ropelight was the most cost-effective and visually-effective chasing light source. It is installed to "flow" within different housings throughout the zone with a mirrored box "carrying" the money back to where it began.
In the Home Planet zone, Jonathan Howard of DHA selected fluorescent and discharge lamps for their long-life expectancy. Gel, glass, and dichroic filters add an "otherworldly" look and disguise the source.
To light the pre-show and a virtual space ride, Howard used a variety of lamps, "just about every light source currently available," he says, listing tungsten, halogen, metal-halide, fluorescent, LED, strobes, and neon, as well as several meters of electroluminescent strip to surround informational screens. "There is not a moving luminaire to be seen," he adds. Control is provided via Artistic Licence's DMX replay units.
The long list of people who made the Millennium Dome a reality should be congratulated for their vision. It isn't often that so many different ideas can be implemented so successfully, and on time to boot. Seems a shame that the project had a pre-determined life span of just one year. Plans are already afoot to rip much of this out at the end of 2000 in order to redesign the Dome for its future owners. . . whoever they may be.
New Millennium Experience Company
Lighting Department Management Team
Simon Brophy, head of lighting
Maggie Bragg, head of lighting maintenance
Andy Powell, senior chief electrician (Exhibitions)
Lee J. Threlfall, chief electrician (Millennium Show)
Jonathan Coventry, deputy chief electrician (Millennium Show & Skyscape)
Mark Leahy, assistant chief electrician (Millennium Show)
Martin Savage, assistant chief electrician (Our Town Story & Meridian Stage)
Richard Williamson, database and asset control supervisor
Dan Harvey, senior maintenance supervisor
Bruno Hunt, deputy senior maintenance supervisor
Architectural lighting consultants: Speirs and Major, London
Jonathan Speirs, Mark Major, principal designers
Laura Jones, Claudia Clements, Colin Ball, Philip Rose, Greg Lomas, Henrietta Lynch, designers
The Millennium Show
Concept: Mark Fisher and Peter Gabriel Creative Director: Mark Fisher
Music: Peter Gabriel
Artistic Director: Micha Bergese
Lighting Designer: Patrick Woodroffe
Programmer: Andy Volker
Programmer: Dave Hill
Lighting consultant: Steve Nolan
Costumes/props: Keith Khan
Technical project manager: Robbie Williams
Mechanical systems: Mike Barnett
Stage: Brilliant Stages
Gantries and mobiles: Tomcat Global
Tower of Babel: Sheetfabs Ltd
PA Tower/Maypole: Brilliant Stages
Swaypole: Kimpton Walker Ltd.
Rigging winches & control: Stage Technologies
Lighting installation: CPL
Moving lights suppliers: Lumenation; VLPS London
Conventional lighting suppliers: A.C. Lighting Ltd; Lighting Technology Group
Themed Zones Lighting Designers
Home Planet: Jonathan Howard/Adam Grater/DHA
Rest: Tanya Burns
Money: David Robertson/Adam Grater/DHA
Play: Maurice Brill Assosiates
Living Island: Sutton Vane Associates
Mind: Rogier van der Heide
Faith: Peter Fordham/Adam Grater/DHA
Body: David Mcdonald (interior); Simon Brophy (exterior)
Shared Ground: Ian Scott
Self-Portrait: Desmond O'Donovan/Adam Grater/DHA
Work, Learning: Barry Hanniford
Journey: Will Glendenning/Imagination
Selected List of Lighting Manufacturers Aldo Ianiro Ambiance Andolite Anytronics Artistic Licence CAST Lighting/WYSIWYG CEE Connectors Celco Chroma-Q Clay Paky Coemar Columbus McKinnon/CM Lodestar Concord Lighting DHA Diversitronics Doughty Duraplug Dynalite Electronic Theatre Controls Electrosonic EMO Systems Enliten Flying Pig Systems GAM Products